[Editorial Analysis] Thinking before linking

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021
Mains level: Government Policies and intervention schemes

Context:

• The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to link the electoral rolls to the Aadhaar database, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday amid stern opposition.

• Ignoring protests, the Union government has managed to push through a Bill in Parliament to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem.

• An unwillingness to allow meaningful debate and invite wider consultation can undo even the progressive aspects of problematic legislation.

Arguments for the legislation:

• The Bill’s objective — to purify the rolls and weed out bogus voters. It mandates the seeding of Aadhaar data with voter identity particulars.

• There would be four qualifying dates for the revision of electoral rolls.

• The Bill says the election registration officer may require the submission of the Aadhaar number both for new enrolments and those already enrolled. The choice not to submit is linked to a “sufficient cause”, which will be separately prescribed.

Importance:

• Removing bogus voters: some electors may be registered in more than one constituency and that non-citizens have been enrolled.

• Remote voting: This can also allow for remote voting, a measure that could help migrant voters.

• Faster enrolment: The four qualifying dates for revision of rolls will help in faster enrolment of those who turn 18.

Few problems with the bill:

• Possible disenfranchisement of legitimate voters unwilling or unable to submit Aadhaar details,

• Possible violation of privacy, and the possibility that demographic details may be misused for profiling of voters.

• Lack of public discussion: It is not clear if the specifics of the Bill had been discussed widely and public opinion sought.

• Other ways to identify bogus voters: by other identification processes such as cross-matching the National electoral roll data held by the election commission of India.

• Aadhaar cannot differentiate between citizen and Non citizen: In fact, the Aadhaar database may be irrelevant to verify voter identity because it is an identifier of residents and not citizens. And the complaints of wrongful enrolment have come up even against the unique identity number allotted to more than 90% of the population.

Justification of the Law:

• Puttaswamy case suggests 3 tests to check validity of a law. Mr. Rijiju is confident that the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill satisfies theses tests laid down by the Supreme Court — a permissible law, a legitimate state interest and proportionality.

• Aadhaar is voluntary by nature: However, this has to be rigorously examined. Even though the Aadhaar requirement is said to be voluntary, in practice it can be made mandatory. Whether the few permissible reasons not to intimate one’s Aadhaar number include an objection on principle is unknown.

• Aadhar is mandatory only in the case of availing subsidies. However, right to vote does not qualify as subsidy.

Way forward:

• If the Government really has no ulterior motive in the form of triggering mass deletions from the electoral rolls, it must invite public opinion and allow deeper parliamentary scrutiny before implementing the new provisions that now have the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

• Each is a valid concern that ought to be considered by a parliamentary committee.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Multi State Cooperative Societies (MSCS) Act, 2002, consider the following statements:

1. The Central Government has decided to amend the Multi State Cooperative Societies (MSCS) Act, 2002 to “plug the loopholes in the Act”.

2. Since the law was enacted, 1,479 such societies have been registered, of which 9 have been deregistered since.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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